Monday, August 25, 2014

Alabama's very own Dr. Death

We've all heard the stories of Dr. Kevorkian--also known as "Dr. Death," who assisted more than 130 patients in committing suicide. Dr. Kevorkian gained his fame as he fought for patients' rights to control their own bodies, but the medical industry took a harsh view of his practices.

The medical industry frowned on Dr. Kevorkian because the Hippocratic Oath says, "I will prescribe no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel."  Many doctors feel it is their duty to heal, to repair, to cure--not to kill.

But Dr. Kevorkian would have probably found a friend in Alabama's own Governor Bentley.  Bentley, a medical doctor himself, has seen fit to throw out the Hippocratic Oath and deny medical care to 300,000 Alabamians who work hard but fall into a coverage gap.

Without Medicaid expansion, our own Gov. Death is allowing 700 people to needlessly die each year--that's 700 people whose lives could be saved with the stroke of a pen.  

Not only are our sick parents, friends and neighbors going to die without Medicaid expansion, our rural hospitals are dying too.  In Alabama alone, 10 hospitals have closed in the past three years, which makes it harder for all Alabamians to get the care they need.

When these hospitals close, the entire community suffers. Everyone has to drive further for medical treatment, hundreds of people lose jobs and the rural county and city loses a valuable revenue source.  Who really wins when the hospitals close?

Yet Dr. Kevorkian is somehow known as Dr. Death, when he was acting at the request of the patients and doing his level best to end suffering for 130 people. Dr. Bentley is putting his hand in the face of hundreds of thousands of needy Alabamians who are begging for his help, looking down out of his taxpayer funded plane at the 700 people who will die this year.

Who do you think we should call Dr. Death?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our budgets show our priorities: Do Alabama's kids come first?

In Alabama, it's no secret that our state government is pressed for cash.  We struggle every legislative session to dole out our dollars for infrastructure, education, prisons, Medicaid and Medicare, as well as a broad list of state agencies that do good work for Alabama. 

In legislative budgeting, just like in our household budgets, sometimes it's easy to overspend or to lose track of our priorities.  After all, that's what budgets do: they show our priorities.

One way our budgets show our priorities is simply the way they are structured. Alabama has two budgets: the General Fund budget and the Education Trust Fund budget. This allows us to appropriate resources separately--for non-education interests and for education-specific interests.

Until now.

A group of Alabama lawmakers are tossing around the idea of combining the two budgets, making the dollars set aside for education fluid with the rest of the state general fund.

I just can't support such a blatant attack on public education.

This would be like attaching a debit card to your child's college fund, then handing it over to your sixteen-year-old because he or she "promised" to be responsible and only use it for emergencies.  Nickel by dime, that fund would deplete and the child left without a future.

The difference here is that the legislators who want to combine the budgets can actually afford to send their kids to private school. They can shoulder the burden of rising tuition costs. To them, it's just politics.

But to the families of this state who depend on quality public schools and affordable college and career training, this is an affront to the very concept of investing in the future.

In Matthew, Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." 

We have to look at where we're putting our "treasure" in Alabama. Are we investing it in bigger and better things for our future through education, or are we squandering it on the here and now? Is our heart with our children or with the business interests? 

We must decide what our priorities are and the budgeting will take care of itself.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Right-sizing the government should start with the Speaker's staff

Last week, several major news outlets across the state covered a story that should have outraged voters across Alabama.  

The stories gave specific details about how the staff for Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard received large increases in pay over the last four years while state employees and teachers were overlooked in the budgeting process.

The articles detail the salary increases for Hubbard's staff over the past four years- several of them receiving raises of 20 and 27 percent. Most of them received a raise between 5 and 15 percent. 

Hubbard's spokesperson Rachel Adams says that the pay increases are just like the merit raises state employees receive. "As the staff members' responsibilities and work portfolios have expanded, their compensation has expanded as well," she said.

But Adams and Speaker Hubbard miss the mark.  They show now and again that they fail to understand working men and women in this state.

See, state employees merit raises have been frozen since 2009. Governor Bentley re-instated them starting January 1, 2014, but the state employees have still gone without their cost-of-living increase since 2008. 

At the same time, we've cut nearly 11 percent of our state employees--we've fired 5,000 working men and women--and asked those who stayed to do more work for less money.

At the same time, teachers across Alabama have seen their pay cut by half a percent since 2010. Our class sizes are getting bigger and our funding for schools is dwindling. We're asking our teachers to do more work for less money.

But Mike Hubbard's staff? They better get the raise they think they deserve.

I have to ask--what makes the Speaker's staff better than other state employees who keep Alabama operational? What makes their 27 percent pay raise acceptable to the Republican Supermajority, while they ask the average state employee making $37,389 per year to forego a two-percent pay raise or cost of living adjustment?

For the $10,000 annual increase Speaker Hubbard gave just one staffer, he could have given 13 state employees a pay raise.

So while Mike Hubbard and the Republicans talk about "Right-Sizing the Government" this election cycle, remember what that means to them: tremendous pay raises for their staff while freezing pay for teachers and state employees.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Parents, we must take an active role in our children's education

Over the next few weeks, kids across Alabama will be heading back to school, full of excitement and goals for the upcoming year. While we've talked a lot about education policy and what the problems in the Montgomery State House have to do with your child's education in the local school house, at the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: preparing the next generation of leaders for the state of Alabama.

Because I'm a parent, too, I know how hard it is to watch your child get out of the car and walk into the school, another year older and another year wiser. And I know the last thing on your mind is the legislation in Montgomery-- you just want your kids to have every opportunity available to them. You just want them to get a healthy lunch.  You just want them to be safe at school.

There's a lot of talk about how the current legislation will affect your child's schools--the Education Budget is short $40 million from the Accountability Act, teachers are making less today than they did four years ago, and per-student cuts amount to approximately $1,200 since 2006. The numbers sound scary, and for lawmakers they are.

As a lawmaker, I promise I'm going to work to fix these problems in Montgomery. As a lawmaker, I'm going to stand up for every child's access to quality public education starting with qualified pre-kindergarten programs. I'm going to stand up for paying our teachers like professionals. I'm going to stand up for keeping public dollars in public schools.

But as a parent, all I can do is sit down.  As a parent, I can sit down with my kids every night and help them with their homework. I can sit down at the parent-teacher conferences and the PTA meetings to learn about what's going on in my child's school. I can sit down on the bed with them and read with them at night.

While we have a long way to go as policymakers, there is plenty we can do as parents. We must teach our children that they are strong, capable, and intelligent. We must demand more from them than our parents demanded of us, and hope that they demand even more from their own children. We must teach them that all learning doesn't come from a classroom--it also comes from a desire to take in the world around you.

I'm doing everything I can in Montgomery, but I need your help to build the next generation of leaders in Alabama. I can't guarantee we can fix the policy, but I can guarantee that you will have an impact on your child's future while we work on the problems in Montgomery.